Charlie Schrauth is one of our lead clinical providers here at SALS Recovery & Housing. He was born to a small farming community in Wisconsin on September 19th, 1953.
Recently celebrating his birthday, he remembers his long journey of addiction and his recovery. As he began to grow up he realized that alcohol and cigarettes were widely accepted in the community.
From church functions to family get-togethers, people would be drinking and smoking, so why shouldn’t he? While he never smoked cigarettes, he started around age 12, taking sips of alcohol from people at events.
He was even given some to help with colds as if it were medicine. Charlie said, “He liked it way too much right from the beginning.”
This interest grew and grew into a bigger problem. He began stealing alcohol from his parents and grandparents, lying, and sneaking around. His bad behavior followed him into school where he would be called to the principal’s office and suspended for skipping school.
But he didn’t think much of that either. All his friends and other kids at school were doing it too, so why shouldn’t he? Stealing drinks here and there quickly turned into binge drinking and that began to affect his schoolwork and farm chores more and more.
After that, his life continued downhill. He got into a car accident at age 16 after drinking. But that didn’t slow him down; he kept right on drinking.
When his mom died a couple years later, he coped with it by going on a 4-day binge with his older sister. During those years he remembers doing “lots of illegal and immoral things” even getting into drugs at one point.
He got married at age 21 to a women he was drinking buddies with. During their 1st year of marriage, both of them got into serious car accidents. Charlie’s sent him to the hospital with a jaw broken in multiple places.
Just a couple days after he got out of the hospital, he was right back at the bar sipping drinks through a straw with a wired shut jaw. Charlie said, “Even after that it didn’t occur to me that I had a drinking problem.” He thought he could handle it and drink responsibly.
But from there, things only got worse. He started having more and more blackouts, and, in 1978, he had another car accident that injured another women. The doctor urged him to really cut down on the drinking and seek help.
Charlie finally hit bottom when he went on a 3-day binge after getting off work on Friday. He said, “That weekend is a lost weekend. I don’t remember much. All I have are vague memories. I just know that I went to a lot of different places with lots of different people.”
He woke up on Monday next to a woman who was known as the town drunk. Humiliated, he walked home since he couldn’t remember where his car was parked. When he got there, his wife stopped him at the door and told him he no longer lived there.
Unsure of where else to turn, he called a friend of his that had gone through rehab two years prior. She said that she would make the arrangements to get him into detox and rehab.
“The 1st night of detox was the worst time of my life,” recalled Charlie. But, thanks to a wonderful nurse, Charlie made it through. “She just sat with me all night. She was an incredible, caring women and wasn’t judgmental.”
He was then admitted two days later into a 28-day rehab, though he had to get an extension to 38 days. One year later, he was drug and alcohol free. He worked at changing who he hung out with and getting used to living without substances, which he found more doable as time passed.
During this time he worked as a machinist for seven years, a job that he didn’t like at all. So he decided that he would go back to school. Entering the health and social work field, he continued to go to meetings and follow the 12-step program.
Fellowship with others was so important. He then got into the Chemical Dependency Counselor Training Program at Kettle Moraine Hospital, graduating in 1981.
Since then, he has had a successful career in helping others, from working with adolescents and adults to outpatient and inpatient programs. He became a House Manager at a halfway home for three years before working with a group of doctors for over twenty years.
When they finally decided to sell the practice, Charlie knew it was time to move on. He started putting feelers out for a more intimate, close-knit setting. A friend of his mentioned SALS Recovery and Housing and he got in touch with Peter Brunzelle. “Peter and I hit it off right away. His vision and sense of community involvement really connected with me,” said Charlie.
Now Charlie is the Clinical Director and Substance Abuse Counselor working with patients in primary care, individually, and in groups. He also supervises others going through credentialing and enjoys helping other staff members grow.
“What I like about SALS is that they offer a sober living housing structure. There are daily disciplines and therapy services that are hands on 24/7. People need months to build a stable foundation. You didn’t get sick over night and you’re not going to get well over night either. So for me SALS does really well at that,” explains Charlie.
He loves to help build up others and help them overcome the hardships in their lives as he did. Charlie did get divorced, but has been able to build his relationships with his children and now grandchildren as well.
Charlie enjoys helping people through those low points in their lives and overcoming their challenges. There are downsides to this job, he admits. Not everyone makes it through recovery. People go to prison. People die. And then working through that with the families is tough. But, unfortunately, that is just a part of life.
Through his 36 years in the field, Charlie has seen a lot change. Years ago addiction was met with a lot more provocative and shaming techniques.
Today there is “a lot more compassion and understanding. You have to be more of a supportive role. It takes a people-person to accept where they are at. They are not well and, when you are sick, you need understanding. You need someone to come along side them and guide them. Not judgment. They do still have to measure progress and attain goals, but the approach to these has changed.”
“Addicts are people of extremes,” says Charlie. “On one side, you have extremely passive people that are victims of everything. And on the other, you have extremely aggressive people. The rebels, defiant and nasty to others.” Charlie works to bring all extremes into the middle, gaining respect for each other.
They really push that treatment is a life and death situation and that their lives depend on it. They work to involve others, especially family. Being involved and helping others in the community is very important. Charlie still is attending meetings himself and does a lot of service and volunteer work. He has sponsored others that are getting into recovery.
“One of the most important things that we can do as a community,” says Charlie, “is to just get the word out there. Building awareness. Having open meetings and forums. Starting the conversation.”
There are already a ton of resources available. And Charlie understands that treatment can be expensive, but there is free support if someone needs it, but people just have to be willing to find it.
That is why we need to talk about it more, get as many involved as possible, get people to go to meetings and work through the stigma. “There is more to us than an addiction,” states Charlie, “We have to continue to learn, fixing the broken, and staying well.”